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Echelon is a global spy network operated by intelligence services in the United States , Great Britain , Australia , New Zealand and Canada . The system is used to eavesdrop or monitor private and business telephone calls, fax connections and Internet data conducted via satellite . The evaluation of the data obtained is carried out fully automatically by data centers . The existence of the system is considered certain since an investigation by the European Parliament in 2001.


The organizations

are involved. Since the 1970s there have been rumors of the existence of a secret espionage system of these organizations. The existence of the network has been confirmed at the latest since the publication of the European Parliament on September 5, 2001.

Origin of the term

Presumably, the ancient Echelon battle order was the namesake for this spy network. In the ancient times originated Echelonformation (see Leaning battle ). Echelon formation is a staggered combat arrangement in the English-speaking world today. The flight formation of migratory birds is sometimes called this. Echelon may also come from French "échelle" (ladder, scale, scale, measure, etc.) or "échelon" (ladder rung, level, but also the military relay), or English "echelon" (ranks). An echelon is also an optical grating (diffraction grating).

The term actually refers to the software that searches the captured SIGINT for certain key words in the corresponding listening stations .

Goal setting

Strategic Mission List : In Germany from 2007 to 2013 the main tasks of the NSA were Strategic Mission J ( industrial espionage ) and Strategic Mission K (monitoring of political leaders).

The European Parliament assesses the objectives as follows:

“There is also agreement on the aim of the system to intercept private and commercial - and non-military - communications. The Committee notes, however, that the technical capabilities of the system are not nearly as extensive as some media claim […]. The Committee concludes that using the system for intelligence purposes only does not violate EU law; However, if the system is misused to gain competitive advantage, this is in stark contrast to the Member States' obligation to be loyal to the concept of free competition in the common market. "

- Report from the European Parliament's Echelon Committee

Press reports previously suspected that Echelon was initially only intended to eavesdrop on the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its allies. Today the system is to be used to search for terrorist conspiracies, drug trafficking exposures, and as a political and diplomatic intelligence service . Since the end of the Cold War, the system has also been used for industrial espionage . These allegations were not confirmed by the European Parliament, although individual committee members expressed concerns in this regard.

According to other sources, Echelon is used to circumvent national laws. American intelligence agencies are prohibited from eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens. The same is true in Great Britain. Now that the British secret service is listening to Americans and the American secret service is listening to British telephone calls, this ban is being circumvented.

Structure of the system

All members of the Echelon system are part of the UKUSA intelligence alliance , whose roots go back to the Second World War . The member states of the alliance provide eavesdropping stations and space satellites to eavesdrop on satellite , microwave and sometimes cellular communications. According to the research report of the EU Parliament, there is no evidence that the technology also enables large-scale wiretapping of wired communications (i.e. telephone, Internet backbones within Europe, fax, etc.). The detection of the signals is probably mainly by in radomes established antennas, usually a spherical shell, which protects the interior primarily against external mechanical influences such as wind or rain. It is assumed that the signals captured, mainly from satellite communication, are partially evaluated by the National Security Agency (NSA), which has the necessary detection systems.

The spy system was first made known to the public in 1976 by Winslow Peck . On July 5, 2000, the European Parliament decided to set up a temporary committee on the Echelon interception system, and in 2001 a 192-page report was published confirming its existence and explaining its importance and implications.

"The Echelon Committee notes that there can be no longer any doubt about the existence of a global communications interception system operated by the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada."

- Report from the European Parliament's Echelon Committee


Bad Aibling
CFS Leitrim
GCHQ booth
RAF Menwith Hill

Large systems for monitoring satellite communication are difficult to hide because of the complex reception technology. The locations of these plants are therefore known. Little is known about the techniques for monitoring wired and microwave communication.

Echelon operates five large stations for monitoring traffic via Intelsat . In Europe there is one in Morwenstow ( Cornwall ) under the supervision of GCHQ for the surveillance of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Two stations are operated by the NSA, one in Sugar Grove, West Virginia and one at the Yakima Army Base, Washington state . A New Zealand station in Waihopai and an Australian one in Geraldton complete the chain.

The monitoring of the non-Intelsat-supported communication takes place or took place from at least five locations, namely Bad Aibling ( Bavaria , dismantled in 2004), Menwith Hill ( Yorkshire ), Shoal Bay (Northern Australia), Leitrim (Canada) and Misawa (Northern Japan) ).

The following locations are suspected:  Map with all coordinates: OSM | WikiMapf1Georeferencing

designation location Country operator Remarks
Australian Defense Satellite Communications Station Kojarena , Geraldton
28 ° 41 ′ 42 "S, 114 ° 50 ′ 32" E
Australia DSD Mentioned in the 2001 EU report. Monitoring of Intelsat communications
Bad Aibling Station Bad Aibling
47 ° 52 ′ 46 ″ N, 11 ° 59 ′ 4 ″ E
Germany NSA, US Army INSCOM Named as “not clearly” in the 2001 EU report. Officially adopted by the Bundeswehr and BND in 2004 and some of the NSA units relocated to the Dagger Complex near Griesheim . The radomes are still used intensively; 13 communication satellites are monitored from there and 180 transmission links are recorded. In return for the surrender, the Germans have undertaken to forward the data to the NSA. The system has the internal BND code "3 D 30".
Canadian Forces Station Leitrim Leitrim / Ottawa
45 ° 20 ′ 11 "N, 75 ° 35 ′ 15" W.
Canada CSE Cited as “not clearly” in the 2001 EU report.
GCHQ booth Morwenstow
50 ° 53 ′ 9 ″ N, 4 ° 33 ′ 11 ″ W.
United Kingdom GCHQ / NSA Mentioned in the 2001 EU report. Monitoring of Intelsat communications.
RAF Menwith Hill Harrogate
54 ° 0 ′ 31 ″ N, 1 ° 41 ′ 25 ″ W.
United Kingdom GCHQ / MI8 / SSD / NSA Mentioned in the 2001 EU report.
Misawa Air Base Misawa
40 ° 42 ′ 12 "N, 141 ° 22 ′ 6" E
Japan Mentioned in the 2001 EU report.
Pine Gap Alice Springs
23 ° 47 ′ 52 "S, 133 ° 44 ′ 12" E
Australia DSD Mentioned in the 2001 EU report.
Shoal Bay Receiving Station Darwin
12 ° 21 ′ 32 ″ S, 130 ° 58 ′ 56 ″ E
Australia DSD Cited as “not clearly” in the 2001 EU report.
Sugar Grove Station Sugar Grove
38 ° 30 ′ 55 ″ N, 79 ° 16 ′ 46 ″ W.
United States NSA Mentioned in the 2001 EU report. Monitoring of Intelsat communications.
Waihopai Station Marlborough District
41 ° 34 ′ 35 "S, 173 ° 44 ′ 20" E
New Zealand GCSB Mentioned in the 2001 EU report. Monitoring of Intelsat communications
Yakima Research Station Yakima
46 ° 40 ′ 56 ″ N, 120 ° 21 ′ 25 ″ W.
United States NSA Mentioned in the 2001 EU report. Monitoring Intelsat communications in the Pacific. Should be resolved soon.
Fort Meade Fort Meade , Maryland
39 ° 6 ′ 32 "N, 76 ° 46 ′ 17" W.
United States NSA Cited as “not clearly” in the 2001 EU report.
Buckley Field Aurora, Colorado
39 ° 43 ′ 5 "N, 104 ° 46 ′ 39" W.
United States NSA Cited as “not clearly” in the 2001 EU report.
Sandagergård Station Aflandshage, Amager Island
55 ° 33 ′ 41 ″ N, 12 ° 35 ′ 1 ″ E
Denmark FCR / FE
Chung Hom Kok , Hong Kong
22 ° 12 ′ 48 ″ N, 114 ° 12 ′ 19 ″ E
United Kingdom GCHQ Mentioned in the 2001 EU report. Dismantled in 1994.
Ayios Nikolaos Station Cyprus
35 ° 5 ′ 40 ″ N, 33 ° 53 ′ 17 ″ E
Cited as “not clearly” in the 2001 EU report.
13 ° 36 ′ 53 "N, 144 ° 51 ′ 18" E
United States Air Force Space Communications Network Cited as “not clearly” in the 2001 EU report.
Kunia Camp / Kunia Tunnel Oahu , Hawaii
21 ° 28 ′ 35 "N, 158 ° 3 ′ 11" W.
United States Cited as “not clearly” in the 2001 EU report.
Medina Annex Lackland Air Force Base , San Antonio, Texas
29 ° 23 ′ 12 ″ N, 98 ° 37 ′ 12 ″ W.
United States Cited as “not clearly” in the 2001 EU report.
Fort Gordon Augusta, Georgia
33 ° 24 ′ 45 "N, 82 ° 10 ′ 7" W.
United States Cited as “not clearly” in the 2001 EU report.
Königswarte Wolfsthal , Lower Austria
48 ° 6 ′ 54 ″ N, 17 ° 1 ′ 32 ″ E
Teufelsberg Berlin
52 ° 29 ′ 52 ″ N, 13 ° 14 ′ 34 ″ E
Germany NSA, US Army INSCOM Closed in 1992

Development from 1990

After the end of the Cold War in 1990, the main enemy, the Eastern Bloc , fell away as a potential opponent. The new intelligence priority, industrial espionage, was introduced by George Bush Sr. established by National Security Directive 67 - issued by the White House on March 20, 1992. Echelon participants are said to have used the freed-up capacities to spy on their own allies in the field of business.

The media have been reporting since the late 1990s that the US secret service NSA had wiretapped the German company Enercon with the help of Echelon in 1994 . The data obtained are the American competitors Kenetech Windpower Inc. were transmitted. According to other reports, the American company had patented the properties in question three years before the alleged wiretapping, which contradicts this theory.

The industrial espionage is also borne out by the testimony of former CIA chief James Woolsey in the Wall Street Journal on March 17, 2000. Woolsey tried, however, to argue that the US was only looking for information on attempts to bribe European companies abroad, because "most European technology is simply not worth theft." Airbus is said to have lost a billion-dollar contract with Saudi Arabia after the NSA found out, presumably through Echelon, that Airbus had bribed the Saudi businessmen to award the contract.

Development from 2000

The Echelon base Bad Aibling Station located in Bad Aibling ( Bavaria ) was able to cover large areas of Europe until 2004; As in all cases, however, one could only eavesdrop on communications that were conducted via radio links or satellites; wired communication such as B. the Internet backbones cannot be intercepted with this technology. In the quoted EU report it was stated that the majority of this facility was used for industrial espionage after the end of the Cold War, and it was proposed that it be closed.

Due to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 , this decision was only implemented with a delay in 2004. In his report to the EU Parliament on September 5, 2001, the "rapporteur of the non-permanent EU committee of inquiry on Echelon" Gerhard Schmid once again stated that intra-European communication is hardly affected, but mainly transatlantic satellite connections. As a replacement for the system in Bad Aibling, a system with five radomes stood from 2004 to 2008 on the edge of the former August Euler airfield (also known as the Dagger Complex by the USA ) in Darmstadt , which, according to some sources, is also said to have served for eavesdropping purposes. The plant was completed in spring 2004; in summer 2008 the radomes were dismantled again.

The BND continues to operate the Bad Aibling listening station with the aforementioned telecommunications center of the Federal Intelligence Service . (See also: Cooperation between the Federal Intelligence Service and NSA ). In Bad Aibling there is a liaison office to the US secret service NSA ( SUSLAG , Special US Liaison Activity Germany) and two transfer points, the Joint SIGINT Activity (JSA) and the Joint Analysis Center (JAC).

On April 23, 2015, the media reported again on the extent of the cooperation between the BND and NSA in Bad Aibling. On the basis of an application for evidence by the parliamentary groups, it was investigated how many of the 800,000 selectors ( IP addresses , email addresses, telephone numbers, geographic coordinates , MAC addresses ) were directed against German and European interests.


Web links

Commons : Echelon  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e Gerhard Schmid (SPE, D): "Echelon" listening system. Doc .: A5-0264 / 2001 Procedure: non-legislative opinion (Art. 47 GO); Debate and adoption: 5 September 2001; Retrieved March 13, 2012.
  2. De Europese Unie en Echelon. In: NRC Handelsblad. September 12, 2000, accessed March 13, 2010.
  3. Patrick S. Poole: Echelon: America's Secret Global Surveillance Network. 1999.
  4. Jeffrey T. Richelson: The US Intelligence Community . 6th edition. Westview Press, Boulder (Colorado) 2012, ISBN 978-0-8133-4511-6 , Chapter 8: Signals Intelligence , pp. 224 .
  5. United States SIGINT System January 2007 Strategic Mission List. (PDF; 2.0 MB) National Security Agency, January 8, 2007, accessed November 5, 2013 .
  6. SIGINT Mission Strategic Plan FY 2008–2013. (PDF; 2.7 MB) National Security Agency , October 3, 2007, accessed November 5, 2013 .
  7. Andre Meister: Internal document proves: BND and the Federal Chancellery knew about industrial espionage by the USA against Germany. In: May 27, 2015, accessed May 27, 2015 .
  8. a b Echelon, Online Surveillence .
  9. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Report on the existence of a global interception system for private and commercial communication (Echelon interception system) (PDF; 1.3 MB) on europarl.
  10. a b The Mists of Echelon ., July 5, 2010;, accessed on November 24, 2011.
  11. Martin Schwarz: "Big Brother is watching you" - The monitoring of telecommunications traffic. Semester thesis at the Institute for History of the University of Salzburg 1998. ; Retrieved June 3, 2012
  12. a b c Nicky Hagar: ECHELON: Exposing the Global Surveillance System. 2012. June 3, 2012.
  13. Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti: Secret services read along unabashedly - basic rights are being dismantled - c't magazine. In: February 26, 1998. Retrieved March 25, 2018 .
  14. Surveillance: BND forwards massive amounts of metadata to the NSA. In: Spiegel Online . August 3, 2013, accessed March 25, 2018 .
  15. pg: US officer confirms: Military intelligence has moved its headquarters to Griesheim. (PDF; 370 kB) In: Griesheimer Anzeiger. October 1, 2003, archived from the original on October 4, 2013 ; accessed on April 8, 2018 (original website no longer available).
  16. Majid Sattar: Yes, my friends, we are spying on you! In: . July 1, 2013, accessed March 25, 2018 .
  17. ^ Charlie Coon: 66th MIG assets to begin moving to Darmstadt. In: The Stars and Stripes . October 7, 2003, accessed July 14, 2013 .
  18. ^ A b Georg Mascolo, John Goetz Berlin: The surveillance factory . March 25, 2018.
  19. ECHELON Reports from Denmark. In: Retrieved January 19, 2015 .
  20. Hager 1996 , pp. 32-34. Photo of the system on p. 45. Hager describes the location of the satellite monitoring on p. 88, together with a terrestrial monitoring system at the same location.
  21. Königswarte satellite espionage station, ORF4, July 6, 2014
  22. ^ Teufelsberg mirrors Berlin's dramatic history . German wave . Retrieved January 28, 2014: “More than 1,000 people are said to have worked here around the clock, every day of the year. They were part of the global ECHELON surveillance network. "
  23. Rachel Beddow: Teufelsberg, Berlin's Undisputed King Of Ghostowns, Set For Redevelopment . NPR . Retrieved January 28, 2014: "The Teufelsberg mission is still shrouded in secrecy, but it's generally agreed that the station was part of the ECHELON network that listened in to the Eastern Bloc."
  24. Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti: Back door for spies . In: Die Zeit , No. 39/1998
  25. Majid Sattar : Yes, my friends, we are spying on you! In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . July 1, 2013, p. 2 , accessed May 7, 2015 .
  26. James Woolsey : Yes, dear friends, we have listened to you . In: Die Zeit , No. 14/2000
  27. The origins of the ECHELON system, June 28, 2010;, accessed on November 24, 2011
  28. Claudia Eckert: IT Security: Concepts - Procedures - Protocols. Oldenbourg, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-486-58999-3 . P. 21 ( limited preview in Google Book search)
  29. Florian Rötzer: Will the Echelon eavesdropping system in Germany be preserved? In: Telepolis . March 22, 2004, accessed January 19, 2015 .
  30. According to a report by the Frankfurter Rundschau dated June 30, 2007, the Darmstadt plant should be dismantled by the end of 2008.
  31. Five Eyes. Germany should join an exclusive spy club . In: Die Welt , December 18, 2013
  32. ^ NSA locations in Germany: Bad Aibling . Spiegel Online , June 18, 2014 (from issue 25/2014 of June 16, 2014)
  33. Markus Beckedahl: Completely out of control: BND probably helped the NSA to monitor German politicians. In: April 23, 2015, accessed May 16, 2015 .
  34. ^ Maik Baumgärtner, Hubert Gude, Marcel Rosenbach, Jörg Schindlisa Erdmann: Federal Intelligence Service: New NSA affair shakes BND . In: Spiegel Online . April 23, 2014. Retrieved May 14, 2015.